|“Let’s see if Adam’s skills are really up to snuff.”
“At least we have a Plan B if he isn‘t. Vitnos, prepare my departure.”
“I will head to the Changing Sands. I think something might occur there that needs my attention.”
His skin began to peel as Belial’s eminent release grasped Mark’s body. The glowing crimson bathed his body and he felt the presence of Belial even more than before. Mark opened his eyes and saw himself once again inside his own mind. He turned to his left and saw Astaroth, sleeping. To his right, he saw Belial, reflecting his gaze back at him. The demon sneered. It moved forward and put it’s arms around Mark, and he felt the strength subtly touch every part of his body. Another blink later, he stood, molded to Belial’s inhumanely strong form. He glanced down and saw that the entirety of his skin had turned a deep shade of red. Every muscle had been enhanced tenfold and his body appeared to be three times it’s regular size. His hands had turned into heavy bludgeons, and his feet became lithe and loose. Claws replaced his fingernails, and a light blue robe covered only the parts of his body that he would not need in a fight. He felt around the top of his head and found small horns that seemed to radiate their own natural force. His eyes widened and he could see around him only in black and white. He’s color-blind, great. Along the sides of his arms and legs, sharp spines appeared that were thick and sharpened like katanas. His teeth became fang-like and his tongue as rough as sandpaper. I think it’s about time I used some of my strength. It’s a damn shame it has to be on such a weakling swordsman. Don’t get too cocky. He’s out for my head, and no doubt he has some special trick. The swordsman had only briefly paused when Belial appeared, and even then only enough to study his new opponents’ change. He brought his sword up for a large swipe diagonally across Belial’s body, but the demon blocked it with one arm. His foe put more force into the sword, his neck muscles straining from the effort. It had only managed to cause a small rivulet of blood to drip. He retaliated by bringing his other hand, fortunately his right, straight into the man’s stomach. The force was equivalent to that of ten Freightliner trucks slamming into one point. He rocketed backwards, even to the forest edge and his body meshed with the tree in a violent way. He saw the man sputter huge froths of blood but, using his sword to steady himself, picked himself back up. He then stood up and weakly charged at Belial again. This time, the demon was ready. He sidestepped and swung a leg under Adam’s to trip him, then elbowed him in the back. Belial heard a satisfying crack as the man was forced into the ground. However, before Belial could rejoice, he looked down and found the man had vanished completely.
“Where did you go, little human?” Belial asked.
He started to walk around the small courtyard area. He even stopped and drank of the fountain that he had slept under. When the last drop of water left his hand, he felt a sword break through the fountain structure and drive it’s way home into Belial’s chest. Adam moved a few steps further and the sword punctured, then burst through the front side of Belial. Blood gushed out and for a small amount of time the demon was overcome by shock. I didn’t even see him… Belial smiled at the new development. He then performed a front-flip and picked the swordsman up with him. He made sure to stop in a position where the man was stuck with the sword still inside him. He eased himself off of the blade, then turned around. The disappearing act happened again. We need a better plan than just flailing around wildly. I think I know who this man might be. Mark’s voice began to echo in Belial’s head.
“These powers can only be attained by one beneficiary pact. The only being I know capable of doing this is Death.”
“Death? Isn’t that just an action, an occurrence? You’re saying it has real physical form?”
“It’s no more shocking than our existence in your world, Mark. Death is an emissary of destruction that has lived since the beginning of this earth. When the Four were assembled, well…we came long after Death began it’s rampage. No one really knows where it came from. Most say it just appeared. I don’t know much more than that. My memory is …foggy, at best. All I think I know is that Death can grant powers over time to beings whose lives were shattered. It can only appear in great times of distress. It allies with no side. It is it’s own side.”
“So how do we deal with it?”
“Guess and check.”
“Just wondering… are you the stupid one of the bunch?”
“I’m not known for brains.”
The sound of a sword cutting through the air almost echoed around the enclosed area. Belial felt the blade slice through his back, but before the man could react he spun around and kicked the man in the face. Then, he buried another leg into the man’s chest. Going along with the amazing speed that Belial could conjure up, he grabbed the human’s neck and used it to swing the man around several times. He let go and watched him fly to the other side of the hidden area. As the man hit the ground, Belial leapt into the air, bringing one leg out front. His momentum sent him let him cross large distances with ease. In a few seconds, Belial’s left leg buried itself in the man’s back, shattering the vertebrae and puncturing a large amount of the organs inside his body. Belial admired his work and walked back towards the entrance.
Belial once again went back to his fountain and drank of it greedily. The demon seemed to recover his wounds and smiled when he saw his bleeding Injuries close themselves up almost instantaneously. A large eruption of light twisted and curled it’s way around the area, turning everything it touched to the color of complete night. Belial watched as his sacred trees began to wither and die, and the fountain dry up slowly but surely. He looked at the ground and watched the grass shrivel and die. A small deer bounded into the clearing just then, but Belial saw it’s neck snap and blood began to pour out, only to be pulled away and absorbed by some unknown force. The deer’s blood was literally vacuumed out. Belial turned and saw the man standing, clutching the death blade in his hand. The blood and vitality of the forest were pulled in by a small part of the hilt of the blade. Belial heard a small growl echo through the area, that did not seem to come from anything but the sword. A black swirl began to cover Adam’s body, and Belial saw the completely crimson eyes that now shone with a vibrant and beautiful nature. The blade increased it’s size not through it’s own material, but in a strange red aura that nearly doubled it’s length and most likely sharpened it’s edge.
“That sword… it can kill everything around it?” Belial asked, having to increase the volume of his voice to be heard over the drowning chaos that swelled around the man’s body.
The man refused to answer, instead gripping his sword and charging again at Belial. The demon merely shrugged and raised both fists in an offensive stance. The swordsman decided to go for a piercing strike, pushing his sword out in a straight horizontal line. Belial could feel that there was no soul in the man when he was driven to this state. He sidestepped and grasped the man’s arm, twisting it and lifting him. He slammed the man on the ground before aiming a kick at the man’s stomach. However, the dark aura resisted his foot and instead repelled it. Belial was swept off his feet and landed a few meters away.
“Interesting!” Belial commented.
Before he could stand up, the blade was at Belial’s throat. The demon looked into the man’s eyes and saw the reflection of a specter in each iris.
“Death… you’re no good at hiding.”
He slid under the blade and grabbed the man’s right leg. He then drug the man around in a circle before throwing him into the fountain. Belial then focused some of the energy in his body into his right fist. The hand began to glow with a strange light and then stabilized with a highly reactive aura. He opened his palm and let the energy ball go. Once it left his hand, it would then follow and seek whatever sources of energy that were nearby. This could backfire if Belial was with either allies or around no one. Fortunately for him, it’s only target was the time-traveling swordsman. It began to move slowly but then seemed almost hyper and sped around the arena before burying itself in the ground where the man was, and exploding. A large dome of energy splayed out and eradicated part of the ground underneath it. Belial walked over to where he though the man would be, and saw the man splayed out, unable to move. His legs began to twitch violently and the sword began to drain the man’s life force as it could not find any other vitality to tap into around itself. Belial decided that enough was enough and grabbed the man’s left arm, lifting him up and staring directly into the man’s face. The dark aura began to recede and the human’s eyes returned to their original color.
“Now, who are you?” Belial asked, his voice deep and gravelly.
“What…does it matter..” The man replied, weakly.
“Because, you’ve tried to slay me and failed. I would like to know the man who could have killed me.”
“Fine… my name is Adam.” The human said.
“Interesting. Well I hope you don’t try this again.”
“I‘ll hunt you as long as my master keeps me… alive…” Adam replied.
“That’s really a stupid reply.”
Belial let go of Adam until he could stand on two feet, then raised his leg up and axe-kicked the human in the face, knocking the man unconscious. He picked up the sword and looked at it for a little while, before dropping it and letting it clang on the ground below. As he made his way to the forest edge, he could hear a low growl echo once again.
Mark resumed control of his body as Belial retreated back into his right hand to rest. He felt where the sword wounds had been to find no trace of anything, not even a scar. I guess I don’t feel any of the wounds they suffer. He walked back into the pristine woods and due to Belial knowing the forest inside and out he could find his way around very easily. When he reached Tsume and Jon, both fast asleep against a tree, Belial’s insignia began to glow and the sleep-inducing fragrance that had just begun to make itself noticeable started to fade and disperse. The two men opened their eyes and looked around their surroundings. Tsume let out a large yawn and stretched, while Jon did the same. They looked at the new symbol on Mark’s hand and understood immediately. Mark helped pull both of them up, and without a word they began to look for the girls, who they assumed were close by but were nowhere in sight.
“Jacqueline!” Mark yelled out.
“Marillia!” Jon yelled just afterwards.
Their cries echoed around the dense forest but were soon encapsulated by the thick air and canopy. Mark pushed through thicket and underbrush, but every time he thought he found a way out, trees blocked any further access. After a few hours, they had someone circled around and were now at the entrance of the forest. There they found the girls, who, while they were drugged, had been beaten severely and left to bleed on the grass. The three men rushed towards them, but a cleverly-placed trap sprung out from underneath them, all of them rope traps that strung them upside-down. The ropes couldn’t have hung from trees, but a quick peek upwards revealed that small flying demons resembling imps with decent strength held the ropes between their small hands. The men looked around but saw no one appear suddenly, like an ambush. Instead the demons casually held them for several minutes before sounds could be heard all around. Then, two burly demons strode forth, carrying large spiked maces. They looked to be obese humanoids with pitbull faces, hands, and feet. As they walked along, one of them let their weapon drop to the ground and the three guys saw that the maces were swinging ones, supported by a lengthy chain. The fat demons inspected their new prey. One of them jabbed a sharp point of the mace into Tsume’s leg, drawing large volumes of blood that trailed downwards into his mouth and eyes. He didn’t make a sound, which was unusual but also tinged with cautiousness. At that point, Astaroth began to shine from his keep in Mark’s left hand, and as Mark passed out from the blood rushing to his head, Astaroth freed himself from his mind.
“And what do you want here, gentlemen?” Astaroth spoke.
“We’re hungry, and you humans had wandered into this forest for too long. That bastard Belial had kept us out for too long with his tricks and traps. Now it is our time to make the traps… and the tricks! We will hunt wherever we want!”
“The human city is not far from here, idiots.”
“…What?” One of the fat men asked, flabbergasted.
“You heard me. It’s over that way.” Astaroth replied, pointing north.
“You wouldn’t be trying to fool us, would you? We don’t like that sort of stuff.”
“Believe me, if I wanted to fool you it wouldn’t be hard. Both of you are really quite like human children. Alas, I am digressing. It is indeed that way, and you can find all the humans you want. Let these three go. They mean nothing to you and neither do the two human females. I will eat them for you, to save you from such disgusting, thin, and salty meat.”
The two fat demons looked at each other, obviously debating the next course of action.
“Oh get on with it. You’ll FIND MORE FOOD THERE.”
They looked at Astaroth’s poltergeist-like form and then motioned for the flying demons to let go of the ropes. Astaroth retreated into the mark as the three men loosened their restraints and took their time to fix their circulation. Tsume put pressure onto his worsening wound as he painfully stood up and walked as fast as he could to the hovercraft. Mark and Jon rushed over to the girls and tried to wake them up. Marillia had gotten the worst of the beatings, she had been whipped several times and one of their maces must have hit her in the chest, putting deep holes in it but not puncturing any vital organs. Jacqueline had merely been slapped around, punched in the stomach a few times as well as whipped. Belial’s magic began to work itself around the two girls as they woke up suddenly, gasping in pain. Mark picked up Jacqueline and carried her piggyback while Jon did the same with Marillia. They jogged as fast as they could to the hovercraft and dumped the two inside. Tsume had already emptied out much of the first aid that Jacqueline had brought with her. He doused his wound with peroxide and bandaged it up to try and stop the bleeding. Jon did the same with Marillia, placing several bandages on her puncture wounds and cleansing solution wherever was necessary. Jacqueline refused any help and merely assisted Jon. There was a long silence within the group, and small, but short glares at Mark. They think this was all my fault. I didn’t drag them into this mess, Astaroth did and we came out of it with another ally. Do they think this journey won’t be fraught with danger?
Mark rested against a solitary tree looking over the windy plains. Much of the area was under constant battery by near gale-force winds. He reflected on everything that had occurred. The allying with Belial would definitely help the group, but at the cost of their survival. Now Mark had two of the five divine Demons inside of him, although they are all much less powerful due to their forced imprisonment. He knew that at least one of them was his enemy, or maybe another ally going down the same path, but with different methods? He was unsure. The other two were still an enigma. The assassins that followed him must know what his purpose really was. Adam, the time-shifting blade master, forever in the shadow of Death, and that archer. Both of them must be hunting only me for a reason. There has to be one. I haven’t done anything noticeable in this entire world, in this life or the one previous. Jacqueline walked over and sat next to him, looking slightly more cheerful than before despite her roughed-up features.
“Hey Mark. You’ve distanced yourself from us, why is that?”
“I just needed space to think, that’s all. It doesn’t help that you all keep looking at me as if the sudden danger could be attributed to my actions. Don’t you guys get it? I’m being pulled along on this joy-ride. I’m drug along on this journey, quest, escapade, what-have-you. I think that maybe, just maybe, I’m meant to save the humans. To save the great collage of genetics, the parasite of this planet, who gave birth to me in a world that would eventually despise me for the feelings I have in my heart. Now I’m in a world where those same bastards are hunted down as prey by far more advanced predators. We’re blindly venturing into a world where we have no allies. This is a world I had once imagined in my dreams. Now it’s all true, all of it! Well fuck me, I’m not happy. I don’t feel anything but remorse, guilt, and pity for this world. Humans and demons alike.”
Jacqueline paused before she opened her mouth, but eventually mustered the courage to reply.
“I think that we all have a pre-destined path that we have to walk on. You know, fate? I think that somehow we’ll find out just what that path will lead us to. Maybe you don’t believe in it, but I sure do! I know that I deserved to come along on this trip and I’ve seen some pretty weird places that I would never have witnessed staying in that city.” Jacqueline replied.
“You’ve got a weird sense of enjoyment, Jackie. It’s a shame that you’re the only one of us that I can relate to I guess. I’m not even sure how we relate, we just do. Jon’s got that whole depressing thing, Tsume’s homophobic. Marillia’s too involved in her work. Anyways… where do we even go next?” Mark asked.
Marillia, supported by Jon then walked over and sat next to Mark. She was healing, but not by much. Tsume hobbled over and put his back to the tree to support his weight on his good leg.
“So Mark, tell us what happened while we were all counting sheep.” Tsume said.
Mark began to relate the events prior.
“We found Belial hidden underneath the fountain, deep in the center of the forest. His magic made any intruders fall asleep immediately. They would either die eventually or rest eternally. Astaroth and Belial talked for a while, and now Belial is inside of me. Apparently they’re all apart of some Divine Order, basically what you’d call Gods but without the religious tag. They’ve watched over us for a long time, I guess they shepherded us into a better future. However, another assassin by the name of Adam approached me. Belial took over and they fought for a while. This assassin was different, he had a sword that fed on the vitality of living things to keep itself strong, and he could shift time around to disappear in a flash and reappear whenever he wanted. I assume he could also rewind time to escape a dangerous situation. Belial said the guy is under a pact with Death, yes, the physical form. Death can bestow time-traveling abilities for it’s own purpose. The thing has been around since before the formation of the planet as well as any demonic influence. Nobody knows what it wants and it usually causes chaos when it puts it’s plans into motion. So that’s what happened.”
Jon talked as soon as Mark was finished.
“So where to next?”
Mark shrugged, but had to answer his question with a question.
“Why is it my decision? I didn’t know I was, uh… the leader.”
“You’re the closest thing we have to one. You’re the first hybrid we’ve seen that didn’t want to eat everything around it. We think you have some purpose and we’ve got nowhere to go. I think we can put away our personal problems-” He said, looking at Tsume, “- for a little while.”
Mark stood up then, and motioned for the rest of them to walk back towards the hovercraft.
“We’ll go in any direction we please, and maybe we’ll find something.”
The hovercraft started up cleanly and smoothly as it was completely untouched by any demons or humans that wandered by. Jon pulled a knob that allowed the hovercraft to extend it’s wings and raise much higher into the atmosphere. Mark looked out one of the windows and saw the forest begin to decay and burn. He felt a strange force hit him just as he saw a flash of crimson light cover the forest in a pall. Belial began to react somewhat violently as the trees withered and eroded. The pristine forest became a clear cut swath of destruction. The crimson light faded as a small figure dotted across the landscape at a disjointed pace. He turned and looked back at the rest of his “friends” and then to the road ahead. They traveled northeast from the forest and ate from the last of the rations onboard.
“I must get back to my studies, Jon!” Marillia spoke, trying to yell at him but her voice came out weak.
“Look, you’re fucked up. Your laptop is still with us but you can’t do anything on it until you heal.”
She continued to resist until an arrow pierced the side of the hovercraft just under Mark’s arm, as he rested against the side of the craft. More arrows broke through the thin metal walls. One even shattered the front windows.
“Shit, it’s that fucking stuttering asshole again!” Mark yelled.
“Land the craft, Jon, or we’re gonna die!” Tsume barked.
Jon veered downwards. In front of them was a humongous staircase that led up to a large tomb-like structure. On either side of the staircase were gigantic stone pillars. He couldn’t find any place to land due to this and the hovercraft ended up slamming into one of the pillars head first, sending Jon and the rest far outside onto the giant steps. Arrows rained down upon the pillar, but missed the group.
“Everyone! Look for cover!” Jon yelled out.
The girls split behind two opposite pillars, Marillia taking a leap of faith and rushing across the giant steps to one. Jon and Tsume pulled out the guns that they had brought along with them, and Mark felt Astaroth churning in his left hand. Three separate figures appeared once again, all sitting atop a pillar of their own. All three had equally long bows stretched taut with golden arrows. Each were pointed at Mark, but on occasion one of the clones moved to one of the other human targets.
“What do you fucking want?!” Mark yelled at them.
One responded, but his voice was quiet and oddly caught with the wind, letting the voice be carried with it down to Mark.
“I want your l-l-life, Mark Goldstone. You and the t-t-traitor demons inside of you. You are all s-s-sentenced to death by our m-master.”
“Who are you? Who is your master?”
“D-die!” It yelled back, letting loose three arrows.
Mark tumbled forward and the arrows stuck into the large stair underneath him. He stood up, but found himself on the edge of a stair, causing him to slip. As he made this critical mistake, more arrows whizzed forward and caught Mark in the same three places as before. He cringed in pain, but rolled to the right to avoid another volley. Gunshots rang out as both Jon and Tsume ran from cover to fire at different targets. The bullets merely whizzed through illusions as their targets fizzled out from view. They reappeared on different pillars, but they paused for a second and grabbed at their collars.
“What’s going on..?” Marillia asked.
“I don’t know, it seems like they’re… chained?” Jon asked.
“What? Like dogs?” Tsume replied.
It makes sense, Mark. Do you remember Greek mythology? Yeah, sort of. I didn’t pay much attention to that crap in high school. I mourn your lack of intelligence, but whatever. The imagery makes sense. Three people. Three heads. Three collars, chained like dogs. The demon inhabiting this man is Cerberus. He must give that man the power to have three instances of himself at one time. He apparently can use only two of them as images at one time, maybe all three. I think the key is to kill all three at once. Good thinking, let’s go.
Astaroth’s power flared from Mark’s left hand as he Mark grabbed his head and yelled in agony. The pain had lessened since the last transformation, but it still felt like someone was tearing him apart to get out. He felt the familiar blade rescind from his right hand, and a surge of energy gather in his left finger. Mark retreated into his mind again, and watched the fight from there. Astaroth was speedy and agile, but nowhere close to being as fast as Belial. On the other hand, Astaroth was great at range attacking, and could deal with the archer with greater ease. From his left finger, he aimed at the middle archer. A large beam of energy burst forth and connected with the top of the pillar and anything that could be on top of it. The whole top part was obliterated and small specks of rock and dust clattered off of it, falling to the ground. A sandstorm then blew through the area suddenly, as most of the environs around the tomb were desert. Astaroth’s vision was blurred temporarily and arrows found their way to bury themselves in his body. He gasped in pain, but continued to dodge them as best as he could. He ran down the steps as fast as he could, arrows puncturing the ground beneath him after every step. Astaroth paused suddenly as a figure stopped him in his tracks. It was a young teen, who had dirty blonde hair. His clothes were rags but covered his body as best they could. His reddish-hazel eyes were tearing up severely and he seemed to be locked in a state of perpetual sadness.
“What is this..?” Astaroth asked.
The teen lifted his arms and reached out to Astaroth in a begging way.
“Please… mister, kill me. I… I don’t want to do this anymore, mister.”
Astaroth at first reacted in a confused manner, unsure of what to do. He reached out and touched the figure. It felt real enough but as he ran his hands along the teenager’s face it’s spiritual nature began to show through.
“Who… are you?”
“I’m Joseph. I'm the human inside that monster. I… I was just curious, I swear!!” The kid said, beginning to sob.
“Cerberus is inside you, isn’t he? Made you do things you didn’t want to do?”
“Yeah… yeah he did. I killed my parents. All I did was touch that bow… it called to me. I was so stupid!! Please, stop me from doing any more killing. Please!”
“Fine. I may eat you afterwards, but that’s what I do.”
The teen smiled, fading with the specks of sand as the sandstorm subsided. The archers pulled their bows taut, and a strange black aura enveloped all three, making them all feature dog-like characteristics. Their bows increased in size along with their arrows. All were pointed straight at Astaroth’s heart.